22 October 2016
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, said elections should be held to end the war in Syria. Photo: AFP
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, said elections should be held to end the war in Syria. Photo: AFP

Islamic State takes Syrian town as fighting escalates

Islamic State fighters drove Syrian government forces from the western town of Maheen in Homs province, Reuters reported, citing a human rights group.

Meanwhile, Syrian parties to the conflict said they saw no end to fighting between rebels and the government despite talks in Vienna on Friday that included Iran for the first time.

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said elections should be held to end the war, echoing a proposal by Russia that has been dismissed by President Bashar al-Assad’s opponents as a ruse by his allies to keep him in power.

It all underlines the intractable state of the four-year-long war that has killed 250,000 people and driven more than half the population from their homes, causing a refugee crisis in neighboring states and Europe, the news agency said.

Talks between world powers in Vienna on Friday adjourned with calls for a nationwide ceasefire but key differences remained between rivals backing opposing sides.

The war has entered an even more violent phase in the month since Russia began air strikes in support of Assad. Differences over his future remain the main obstacle in the way of diplomatic efforts.

While the United States and Russia back rival sides in the war between the government and rebels in western Syria, both are also waging separate campaigns against the Islamic State group that controls wide areas of the east and the north.

Islamic State, which is separately fighting both the Syrian army and rebels in western Syria, has launched several attacks on government-held areas since Damascus launched a new offensive against it east of Aleppo, backed by Russian air strikes.

In a fierce assault that began by detonating two suicide car bombs, Islamic State militants took the town of Maheen from government forces, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.

Some 50 fighters on the government side were killed or wounded, and clashes raged afterwards on the outskirts of a mostly Christian town nearby, Sadad, it said.

The Observatory’s Rami Abdulrahman said the attack might have been a response to pressures the group is under elsewhere.

On the other side of Syria in the northeastern province of Hasaka, Islamic State is facing a new offensive launched by a recently formed US-backed rebel alliance.

The Observatory reported fierce fighting between the rebel alliance, including the Kurdish YPG militia, and Islamic State fighters in the area of al-Houl near the Iraqi border.

The United States says it will step up its fight against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, having decided to station special forces in Syria to support rebels fighting the jihadists, and to position more US jets in Turkey and expand air strikes.

Air strikes by Turkish and US aircraft in Syria on Saturday killed more than 50 Islamic State militants, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency said.

Khamenei, in comments reported by Iranian state TV, criticized foreign powers that arm and fund Syrian opposition fighters.

“The solution to the Syrian question is elections, and for this it is necessary to stop military and financial aid to the opposition,” state media outlets quoted Khamenei as saying.

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